Volunteering in social enterprise post-lockdown

Posted: 12 July 2021, in News

Book your free places at our upcoming event “Volunteering in social enterprise post-lockdown” on Wednesday August 4th at 11.30am.

What is volunteering going to look like in Scotland post-lockdown? When I first started to think about this question and review the evidence to write this blog, I realised just how uncertain the future still feels. Volunteering has played an invaluable part in supporting Scotland through the pandemic, and perhaps to look to the future we first need to consider how COVID-19 has changed volunteering. 

COVID-19 has brought unprecedented changes to how we live our lives in Scotland; it has brought incredible loss and unparalleled challenges to society and individuals. Despite all the challenges individuals faced, Scotland has pulled together to help one another in truly incredible ways. During the first national lockdown three quarters of Scottish adults (74%) gave time to help others, communities, and society. 

Volunteers stepped forward to help those at risk of isolation and loneliness through befriending, they did food shopping for others, they helped with household tasks, they collected and delivered vital prescriptions, amongst a myriad of other vital activities. 

During this period we also saw a sea-change in the ways in which adults volunteer. Mutual aid groups – a term many of us were unfamiliar with before COVID-19 – sprung up all over Scotland. In a few short weeks over 220 groups in Scotland registered with ‘COVID-19 Mutual Aid UK’, with hundreds if not thousands of other groups setting up on social media platforms. Informal volunteers showed overwhelming levels of support to help friends and neighbours. In contrast, formal volunteering numbers fell due to social distancing, shielding, lockdowns and funding. However, research found that more adults in Scotland intend to volunteer post COVID-19, but this is based on people’s intentions, which may be an imperfect measure.

Volunteer-based organisations moved services online at pace to continue to support their beneficiaries. Many adapted the services offered to support the critical societal needs that COVID-19 brought while others were forced to stop all meaningful delivery of their services. The impacts were not equal across all types of volunteers involving organisations, with social enterprises facing more adverse financial impacts than voluntary organisations and community groups, and a higher percentage had a need for more volunteers.

As we move out of lockdown many of the societal challenges experienced during COVID-19 remain, with mental health and social isolation being the two issues that charities are most concerned about for their beneficiaries. Hence, volunteers are needed more than ever to help Scotland through the long-term impacts of Covid-19.

So, what is volunteering going to look like in Scotland post lockdown? We may see an increased role for technology and digital engagement with suitable services offered online, we may see mutual aid groups continue to support their local communities, we may see the higher levels of informal volunteering continue plus the great examples of flexible and innovative ways to manage and support volunteering may be sustained and developed further post-lockdown, but a lot is still uncertain.

My hope for the future of Scottish volunteering post COVID-19 is increased community engagement, increased collaboration between voluntary sector partners and the inspiring spirit of kindness remaining at the heart of volunteering. 

COVID-19 has impacted everyone in Scotland. Wouldn’t it be amazing that if out of all these losses and challenges a more connected, kinder society with community and volunteering at its heart was the legacy?

Debbie Maltman, Research Officer at Volunteer Scotland